Okay, Mr. Peele, NOW you’re M. Night Shyamalan. Universal/Comcast’s Us roared out of the gate yesterday with a terrifyingly huge (in a good way, natch) $29.06 million. That includes $7.4m in Thursday previews, meaning that the MonkeyPaw chiller earned just 25% of its “opening day” take on Thursday. But here’s the holy crap stat: Us, an original, R-rated horror movie with a mostly black cast, just scored the biggest opening day in history for a live-action original. Inflation notwithstanding, it earned more on Friday than the opening day ($26.7m) and the second Saturday ($28.272m) of James Cameron’s Avatar. Us just scored the seventh-biggest single day for any wholly original theatrical release, sans inflation, even if you count animated movies.
Its Friday gross sits behind only The Incredibles ($29.5m on Saturday), Zootopia ($31.6m on Saturday), Inside Out ($34m on Friday and $31m on Saturday) and The Secret Life of Pets ($38m on Friday and $37m on Saturday). Since Us is a horror movie (and this isn’t the pre-Christmas frame), we shouldn’t necessarily expect an opening weekend on par with Avatar’s $77m. Yes, Get Out had a ridiculous 3.08x multiplier and Us has earned rave reviews, but the home invasion flick, about a family attacked by murderous doppelgangers, isn’t quite as crowd-pleasing as Get Out and frankly it plays closer to the kind of horror movie that turns off at least some chunks of the general populace.
That’s not a criticism (M. Night Shyamalan had a similar situation with Unbreakable as a darker, denser and less audience-friendly follow-up to The Sixth Sense), and it barely matters with the numbers we’re already seeing. If it is merely as leggy this weekend as The Nun (2.43x), we’re looking at a $70 million debut weekend for the $20m-budgeted release. That would make it the third-biggest R-rated horror debut ever behind only (again, sans inflation) Halloween ($76m in 2018) and It ($123m in 2017). So too would a multiplier only as strong as Halloween (2.3 x its $33m Friday), which would still give Us an over/under $65m debut weekend. That would make it, even accounting for inflation, the second-biggest slasher movie ever behind the aforementioned Halloween sequel.
A $61 million launch this weekend still makes it the ninth-biggest opening for any kind of scary movie, just ahead of Hannibal ($58m in 2001) and M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs ($60m in 2002) and behind only World War Z ($66m in 2013), The Mummy Returns ($69m in 2001), The Lost World: Jurassic Park ($74m in 1997), Halloween ($76m in 2018), I Am Legend ($77m in 2007), It ($123m), Jurassic World; Fallen Kingdom ($148m in 2018) and Jurassic World ($208m in 2015) among all would-be “scary movies.” You’re welcome to debate which movies “count” as scary/horror movies, but I wanted to be comprehensive. Here’s hoping it reaches $70m so I don’t have to argue over whether World War Z and The Mummy Returns count as “scary movies.”
The odds are in Us’ favor. It entered the marketplace with rave reviews, a beloved prior flick from the director, a lack of big horror in the marketplace and its existence as a demographically-specific event movie. It’s the Crazy Rich Asians of horror movies (on steroids, it would seem). It’s an event movie for folks who look like Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke (as opposed to Elisabeth Moss) and it’s an event movie for fans of this specific genre (especially as Us is bigger in scale and scope than a conventional single-location horror flick). Us is a concept-driven, star-driven (to the extent that Lupita Nyong’o is a butts-in-the-seats movie star) and filmmaker-driven (Peele is now absolutely a draw akin to Chris Nolan or M. Night Shyamalan) smash hit.
No matter if it ends up with a bigger debut than Signs or a bigger debut than The Lost World, Us is a monumental achievement. Here’s another reason to be impressed by Us’s success: It just pulled off a likely over/under $65 million opening weekend with a campaign that didn’t start until three months until opening day. That’s not to say Universal didn’t sell the movie, because they absolutely did. But Us did its thing with a teaser poster (which dropped on December 21), one theatrical trailer (which dropped on Christmas day), a 60-second pre-game Super Bowl commercial, another poster that debuted on February 8 and pre-release TV spots that didn’t really kick into gear until mid-February (to capitalize on NBA and NCAA games). That was it.
Yes, you had online gimmicks (Jordan Peele made up a Spotify playlist) and the usual round of pre-release media appearances and magazine profiles. And yes, it debuted at this year’s SXSW festival along with concurrent screenings for black journalists and influencers. But in terms of physical content (trailers, clips, posters, TV spots, etc.) designed to sell the movie, Us needed only the bare minimum and only three months to get the job done. I talk a lot about how certain preordained blockbusters (think Avengers or Star Wars) don’t need the usual saturation-level marketing campaign, but this… this was a full-blown original movie. Universal and friends sold the concept, the director, the cast and then got the hell out of dodge and let the movie do the rest.
Us will almost certainly notch the biggest opening ever for an original horror flick and the biggest opening ever for an original R-rated movie of any kind. It’ll probably be the second-biggest launch for a wholly original live-action flick save for Avatar‘s $77m debut weekend back in 2009. Universal will end the weekend with the fourth (Glass‘s $40m debut), third (How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World with $55m) and second-biggest openings of 2019. So, yeah, I’d say that Jordan Peele is absolutely our next Steven Spielberg/Chris Nolan/M. Night Shyamalan/Quentin Tarantino/etc. Yes, he’s “the first Jordan Peele,” but it damn well matters in our branded/IP/nostalgia-driven era that he can pull a number this huge mostly on his name and his reputation.